Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Old School Muscle

     The following article is a combination of a couple of different articles I wrote for some different magazines, and a few brief posts that I've written on this blog in years' past.  I hope you enjoy the outcome—and find that it offers some valuable insight, AND a kick-ass training program for packing on the mass!


Old School Muscle
Training Strategies of the Classic Bodybuilders

     Most bodybuilders today think that newer is always better; doesn’t matter if it’s the latest pill, protein powder, diet, or workout program.  Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not always the case.  I think it’s time some of the old-school training strategies once again saw the light of day.  In fact, I think if you combine many of the ideas of the “old-timers” with today’s state-of-the-art supplements, the results could be amazing.
     In the following article, I’m going to outline many of the best strategies the old-time bodybuilders had for building slabs of muscle mass—and then I’ll outline a sample program using these strategies.  It’s time for an old-school resurrection.

Enter Old School

     The following training regimen is based on principles that a majority of old-time bodybuilders adhered to.  Before we get to the nuts-and-bolts of the program, let’s look at a few of these principles.
Principle #1—Don't go by the mirror, go by the weight on the bar.
     One of the major mistakes current bodybuilders make is to assess their progress based on the results they see in the mirror.  A lot of this has to do with the way they lift.  When you train for the pump, you often go by feel, and never make many strides toward increasing the weight that is used.
      There are a lot of problems with going by "feel" or "looks."  Often, your memory lies to you.  You think you look better than you did three months ago when, actually, there isn't any change (or you look worse).
     While bodybuilders of the past enjoyed the benefits and the feeling from getting a good pump—they often called it “chasing the pump”—they worried more about increasing their strength.  It's the reason they used methods like 5 sets of 5 (a favorite of Reg Park's), 5 sets of 5/4/3/2/1, and heavy singles.  With these techniques, the emphasis is on performance, though the looks will soon follow.
Principle #2—Train through the soreness.
     I know this method's going to be a bit controversial, given all the emphasis in muscle magazines the past two decades or so on giving your muscles enough time to "recuperate" and "repair" (although I do think the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way).  Let me explain, and maybe I'll have a few converts (especially once you put the method to proper use).
     I think it's mistakenly believed that bodybuilders of the past trained so frequently (usually 3x weekly for each bodypart) because they simply didn't know any better.  But if you were to ask the great Bill Pearl if he would change the way he used to train considering all the new "knowledge" about recovery, he would flatly tell you, "no."
     One of the reasons bodybuilders who train each bodypart once-per-week get so sore is because, well, they train everything once-per-week.  This never allows you to increase your rate of recovery, because the demands are never placed on your body to do so.  Sure, if you start training everything two, or even three, times a week you're going to be sore, but after a couple of weeks the soreness will subside.  Then, look out, because it's growth time.
Principle #3—Train long, not hard.
     A favorite quote of Arthur Jones goes something like this: "You can either train long, or you can train hard, but you can't do both."  And everyone seems to immediately assume that the answer is to train hard.  Not many consider that training long might be the better option.  Bodybuilders from the past, however, understood this well.  It's the reason Bill Pearl always advised taking sets about two reps short of failure.  This allows one to perform more sets.
     This training long option doesn't necessarily have to apply to the length of the workout.  It applies more to the duration spent on an exercise.  For instance, what do you believe is the better sets/reps method for the squat?  Three sets of ten reps or ten sets of three?  Three sets of ten is definitely the "hard" method, even though both schemes involve the same total workload.  And if you were to ask this question in the gyms of today, you would undoubtedly get the answer that three sets of ten is the best.  Any lifter who trains with me, however, would immediately know my answer.  Ten sets of three is the better method.  Though both involve the same workload, only the ten sets method allows for maximum force to be applied on every rep.  It also ensures that all reps are performed with perfect form, and none are taken to failure.
     Principle #4—Perform only one or two exercises per bodypart.
     When Reg Park was in preparation for a bodybuilding contest, he would always perform multiple exercises-per-bodypart (sometimes as many as eight), but he didn’t train this way in the off-season.  He was adamant about using only one to two exercises-per-bodypart, as were the vast majority of other lifters from his era (and before).
     There are several benefits to the multiple sets of one exercise approach.  One, it allows you to get really strong on your core exercises: benches, squats, deadlifts, curls, overhead presses, etc.  And remember, you are worried about the weight on the bar.  Performing multiple sets on bench presses, for example, allows you to improve your synaptic facilitation on the lift, or what Russian strength coaches would call "greasing your groove."  Basically, the more you perform the exercise, the better (and, therefore, stronger) you get at it.
     Another benefit is it allows you to really focus on the bodypart you're training.  I can't tell you how many times when I was performing the multiple exercises method that I lost focus (and pump, strength, etc.) when, after a couple of sets on my first exercise, I moved to something else.
     Vince Gironda called one-exercise-per-bodypart training the "honest workout."  Why?  Because he knew it worked like no other.
The Old School Mass from the Past 5x5 Program
     The following is a program for almost 4 months of training.  Don’t be fooled by its simplicity when you first look at it.  And make sure that you move through it progressively by following each phase.
Phase One
     Perform the following workout for 4 weeks.  The weights lifted do not include warm-ups.  Be sure that you perform 2 to 3 warm-up sets on each exercise before proceeding to your work sets.  Make sure that you train on 3 non-consecutive days per week.
Day One:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work of your choice
Day Two:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Three:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
     Rest 2 to 3 minutes between work sets.  After you have finished 4 weeks of training, perform a “down week” where you perform the same workout, but you cut your weights used in half.
Phase Two
     This phase will also last four weeks.  The first week, your body may have to adjust to the increased workload, so there’s a possibility that you will still be sore on days 2 and 3.  That’s okay—train through the soreness.
Day One:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Weighted Dips: 5 sets of 5 reps
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Two:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Seated Behind-the-Neck Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Three:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
     Rest 2 minutes between work sets.  Following 4 weeks of this workout, be sure to take another “down week.”  On this week, cut the weights and the number of exercises in half.
Phase Three
     Phase three is a killer.  It’s so tough that there’s no way you would be able to finish it unless you have first completed phase one and two.  With that in mind, perform the following phase for only 3 weeks before taking a “down” week.
Day One:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Two:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Weighted Dips: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps
Wide Grip Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Three:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bradford Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
     When you are done with this phase—and after you’ve taken your “down” week—you will probably want to try something different.  You could continue with full-body workouts, but start using the 5/4/3/2/1 method, or 5 sets of 3s or 2s.  Either of those methods can be productive.  Another option would be to perform some split workouts, but only split your body two ways, and follow the same principles.
     One final thing: Make sure that you get plenty of sleep and eat plenty of protein every day.  This program requires that you take your nutrition and recovery methods seriously.

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